One Track Mind: Nnenna Freelon, “Swingle Jingle Bells” from Christmas (2013)

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Nnenna Freelon arrives like an effervescent burst of champagne bubbles, cooing and scatting along to one of Frank Foster’s final arrangements on the opening track from her forthcoming Yuletide set.

Simply titled Christmas, and due November 12, 2013 via Brown Boulevard Records, the album features the spritely swinging John Brown Big Band — a group that only bolsters Freelon’s innate sense of finger-popping fun here. Elsewhere, you’ll find many of the usual suspects — from “Silent Night” and “Little Drummer Boy” to “Let It Snow” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

I kept coming back to the project’s inital moments, though, as Freelon adds a winking Ella-esque sensuality to this canny update of “Jingle Bells” alongside a bouncing bass line from Brown himself. Conductor Jon Metzger punches in a few bright surprises during the middle eight, as a brawny but air-tight brass section tangles and untangles with these salacious saxophones. It serves as a lasting tribute to Foster, a Basie Band legend who died while Christmas was in production.

When Freelon grabs the mic again, she’s completely in the moment — even changing the familiar lyric to “oh, what fun is it to jam in a one-horse open sleigh.” That makes for a terrific opening statement for loose, endlessly approachable album, and maybe its best moment.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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